30 August 2015

Nerds Like It Hot (Nerds, Book 6)

Back cover copy: She's unleashed her inner vixen…

Hollywood makeup artist Gillian McCormick wouldn't normally be caught dead on a cruise aimed at single geeks. But as the sole witness to a murder, hiding out may be her only chance at staying alive. With P.I. Lex Manchester guarding her, and a voluptuous disguise in place of her plain-Jane wardrobe, Gillian should be safe… if she can resist a titanic attraction to Lex that's making her fantasize about some extra-naughty cruise activities…

He's rediscovered his inner nerd…

Lex thought he had left behind his nerdy ways, but his suave demeanor has no chance against Gillian's bombshell image and the smart, sexy woman within. And when the scent of seduction wafts through the sea air, what's a red-blooded male to do?

And the passion they've found is about to get out of control…

With a passenger list that includes a mobster on a mission, a cross-dressing sociopath, and hundreds of lusty nerds, Lex must find a way to keep Gillian safe--and prove that he's truly her nerd for all seasons…

Stats for my copy: Mass market paperback, St. Martin's Press, 2006.

How acquired: Bought.

First lines: “Gillian, Darling, it's Cora. Four out of five women surveyed say that nerds are amazing in bed. You simply must go on this cruise with me. Kiss, kiss.”

My thoughts: As I've now come to expect with this series, the characters and the situations they find themselves in are a little campy, a little over the top. Well, actually, not the characters this time around as much as the situations.

Gillian does makeup in the cutthroat world of Hollywood. Leaving the studio late one night, she overhears a ruckus coming from one of the star's dressing rooms, and just like that she's a witness to a murder with mob connections. Her elderly friend Cora, a former star who was friends with Marilyn Monroe back in the day, is headed out on a singles cruise for nerds the next day, and Cora convinces Gillian to go along as a way of getting out of the country. And she convinces Gillian to dye her hair and put on a sexy dress and bam, Gillian is a Marilyn Monroe lookalike. Because rather than blend in with the crowds of ill dressed and badly coiffed nerds and be inconspicuous, Cora says that she needs to stand out and participate in as many cruise activities as she can, so nobody would ever mistake “Norma Jean”, her fake cruise name, for Gillian.

Lex and Dante are childhood friends who have a fledgling private investigations business. They grew up in Cora's neighborhood and she considers them the grandsons she never had. So Cora hires them to come along on the cruise as bodyguards for Gillian. Cora happens to know the owners of the cruise line, so has no problem making last minute arrangements. Unfortunately, trouble follows Gillian as it soon becomes apparent that someone else managed to get on the cruise as well, and that someone wants Gillian dead.

A few scenes left me shaking my head with disbelief – Gillian verbally admiring how well endowed Lex is; a cross-dresser using fruit in a way nature never intended – but overall it was a fun and quick paced screwball romp with plenty of the author's signature humor and heart. 

23 August 2015

Turtle Moon

Back cover copy: Welcome to Verity – home of more divorced women from New York than any other town in the state of Florida. Where Lucy Rosen has moved to get away from her ex. Where Officer Julian Cash watches over the town with a fierce German shepherd and even fiercer expression. Where Lucy's son Keith hates everything: the heat, the school, and sometimes his mother. He can't wait to get away. And then he does, when a woman is murdered and her baby is left behind. Keith takes off with the baby. Lucy and Julian take off after him. And TURTLE MOON takes off on a funny, touching, and exhilarating journey.

Stats for my copy: Mass market paperback, A Berkley Book, G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1993.

How acquired: Bought.

First line: The last major crime in the town of Verity was in 1958, when one of the Platts shot his brother in an argument over a Chevy Nomad they had bought together on time.

My thoughts: Turtle Moon started out a little slow, as the characters were introduced and their lives begin to intersect, but quickly picked up steam. There's Bethany, hiding from her husband with her baby daughter. There's Lucy, trying to put her life back together after a divorce, fighting with and continually at odds with her twelve year old juvenile delinquent son, Keith. There's Julian, quiet, morose, driving around in his patrol car with his K9 tracker, Loretta, who lives in his house and loves his company, or scouting across the countryside with his cadaver dog, Arrow, who has no use for human kindness and no qualms about biting the hand that feeds him. There's Mrs. Giles, who raised Julian and hundreds of foster children after him. There's Bobby, who can't leave the tree where he died.

One hot Florida night, Bethany is murdered in her apartment, and Lucy's son disappears with Bethany's baby daughter, sending Lucy and Julian on a quest for the truth, coming together and falling apart.

The ending was anticipated and expected, and then suddenly wasn't, leaving me a little unsettled, but with hope for everyone's futures.

Alice Hoffman's writing has such a wandering, meandering, dreamy, mesmerizing quality. There are often long stretches where nothing actually happens, and yet you're glued to the page. While I've enjoyed almost everything I've read by her, I think this is one of her better books. 

22 August 2015

Shelter Mountain

Back cover copy: John “Preacher” Middleton is about to close the bar when a young woman and her three-year-old son come in out of the wet October night. A marine who has seen his share of pain, Preacher knows a crisis when he sees one – the woman is covered in bruises. He wants to protect them, and to punish whoever did this, but he knows immediately that this is more than just instinct. Paige Lassiter has stirred up emotions in this gentle giant of a man – emotions that he has never allowed himself to feel.

Then Paige's ex-husband turns up in Virgin River. And if there's one thing the marines' motto of Semper Fi – always faithful – has taught Preacher, it's that some things are worth fighting for.

Stats for my copy: Mass market paperback, Harlequin MIRA, 2007.

How acquired: Bought.

First line: A fierce and unseasonably cold September wind blew chilly rain against the windows.

My thoughts: On a stormy night Paige Lassiter and her young son are running from an abusive husband, their destination still miles down the road, where they will take on new names and pray he doesn't find them. But Chris is running a fever, and Paige has left the highway in search of a motel where they can both get some rest. After miles of driving, she finally stumbles across a small establishment in the tiny town of Virgin River, and seeks shelter from the rain.

The bar is owned by Jack, the hero of the first book in the series, VIRGIN RIVER. Preacher, who served with Rick in the marines, does the cooking, among other things. He used to live in a room upstairs, but after Jack and Mel married, Preacher moved into Jack's apartment out back. He spends his days puttering around the bar, and fishing, and lives a quiet, rather solitary life, which he's quite content with. And then Paige comes barreling through the door with her small sleeping child and her bruised face, and Preacher's life will never be the same.

The romance between Paige and John – his real name, and the one Page calls him by, so the one I'm going to use from this point on - builds up very slowly. Paige is anxious to get back on the road towards the new life she has planned for herself and Chris, even though it will be a life of living in hiding. She's sure that the longer she stays in Virgin River, the more likely her husband, Wes, will track her down and show up one day. John feels fiercely protective of both Paige and Chris, and offers her the use of his old room upstairs for as long as she wants it, continually coaxing her to stay a bit longer but never putting pressure on her.

Chris is asleep when they arrive and doesn't actually meet John until the next morning, and John worries that Chris will be afraid of him because he's such a big, scary, mean looking man. He treats both Paige and Chris with patience and respect, and his interactions with Chris, who attaches to him quickly, are sweet and some of the best scenes in the book.

Of course John and Paige will end up together, but their romance was very well paced. John has never been in a serious relationship and never even really considered the possibility of falling of love. It's a nice change to read about a hero who doesn't have a lot of experience with women.
John pinched his eyes closed and prayed for control. He hoped he would be able to tell when she was satisfied -- he wasn't completely sure how that worked. He'd never paid attention before. A lot of panting and squirming, he assumed. Maybe he'd get lucky and she'd just tell him.

While this is Paige and John's story, characters from the first book are still prevalent. Jack and Mel get plenty of page time, even traveling to visit Jack's family, where Jack and his dad and brothers-in-law have a hilarious conversation about pregnant women that had me laughing out loud. Rick, the teenager who works at the bar, is also featured in a heartbreaking story line that affects all of the characters. And if you read my review of the first book, you know about my fixation on the mysterious marijuana grower who required Mel's help with a young girl in labor. I kept hoping he would make an appearance and he did, a couple of times, and we even learn his name, though not much else about him. I'm really hoping that he continues to show up as the series progresses.

And one of Jack and John's military brothers, Mike, comes to Virgin River to recuperate after being shot. Jack's sister Brie is also around in the latter part of the book, and I'm looking forward to the next book, whispering rock, which is about her and Mike.

Robyn Carr is wonderful at creating characters who are so realistic, so...human. Whether they are main characters, secondary characters, or bit players, they are never one-dimensional or cookie cutter.

Why can't I live in Virgin River?

20 August 2015

Rereadable Lines

John pinched his eyes closed and prayed for control. He hoped he would be able to tell when she was satisfied -- he wasn't completely sure how that worked. He'd never paid attention before. A lot of panting and squirming, he assumed. Maybe he'd get lucky and she'd just tell him.

Oh John, he's such a sweet hero!

Shelter Mountain, by Robyn Carr

14 August 2015

Trail of Kisses (Hot on the Trail, Book 1)

Synopsis from Goodreads: Someone is trying to kill Lynne Tremaine. After her father sentences two members of The Briscoe Boys gang to death, Judge Tremaine feels he has no choice but to send Lynne to Denver City along the Oregon Trail to live with her Uncle George…against her will. For Lynne, the only thing worse than being sent away to the wild west is making the journey with the handsome, arrogant, wicked man her uncle has hired to escort her. Especially when the anger she feels toward him begins to turn to something hotter. 

Cade Lawson is determined to prove himself to his employer, George Tremaine, after letting him down months earlier. But what he thought would be his second chance may, in fact, be a harsh punishment for his past mistakes. Lynne is headstrong, fiery, and determined to show him she is fearless. She is also beautiful and tempting, and when Cade sees just how afraid she really is underneath her brave act, he may be in danger of losing his heart to her forever. When her would-be killer attacks, it’s all he can do to keep Lynne safe. 

He swore to protect her, but who will protect him from her?

Stats for my copy: Kindle edition, Smashwords, 2014.

How acquired: Received from Badass Marketing for review.

First line: The first glimpse Lynne Tremaine had of the mass of wagons that would take her west was enough to sink her heart.

My thoughts: Our story opens with Lynne Tremaine saying goodbye to her father and joining a wagon train to Denver City, much to her dismay. Judge Tremaine has been receiving threats from the Briscoe Boys in retaliation for hanging two of their members, and he is sending Lynne to stay with her aunt and uncle in an effort to keep her safe. He's hired a young man to drive her wagon, and Uncle George has sent one of his employees, Cade Lawson, to escort her.

Lynne is very independent, very stubborn, very headstrong. Her father calls her his brave girl, and she's determined to live up to that assessment, no matter what. I'll admit that in the beginning, while she's a very likable heroine with an appealing character, I still got a little exasperated with her, thinking her a spoiled idiot who doesn't have the sense to understand the danger she is in, making Cade's job of keeping her safe harder than it should have been. I didn't expect her to be a weak complacent female of her time, taking men's orders and doing as she's told without complaint, but she still seemed to swing too far the other way. However, as the story progressed and I got a little more into her head, I began to look at her in a different light, realizing what motivated her, what shaped her character.

Cade Lawson is also very likable, and very appealing. On a recent assignment he slipped up, and now he feels like a failure and a disappointment to his boss. He's hoping that safely escorting Lynne to her uncle will put him back in the latter's good graces.
He muttered a curse under his breath and swung his horse around to mount. “This is definitely a punishment.”

Cade and Lynne are constantly at odds, and their sparring often made me smile.

Not too long into the trip, it becomes apparent that the Briscoe Boys, or someone working for them, is among the many pioneers on the wagon train:
On top of her things, turned so that it faced her, Lynne found a photograph of her father, splattered with blood.

As the threats become more frequent and more frightening, vulnerability makes it's way into Lynne's personality. By now Cade is smitten with her, and I loved that whenever she gathered her resolve and acted like her old tough nothing-scares-me self it made him grin and his heart would swell a little more for her. As frustrating and recalcitrant as he often found her, it was clear that he preferred her that way over meek and mild.

There's quite a bit of sexual tension between Lynne and Cade, and then suddenly there was actual sex, which was a little jarring at first as up until then the tone of the book felt more...innocent, for lack of a better word. Especially considering the time the characters live in, when proper young ladies did not bed down outside the marriage bed, and where it would be so easy for their traveling companions to suspect, or realize, what's going on. But that's not a complaint – just an observation.

Except...there was one instance that nagged at me. When Cade and Lynn are making love, and Cade tells Lynne “Come for me, sweetheart,” and she moans “Say that again.” That just kind of took me out of the book for a moment, wondering if people actually used the word “come” in this context in 1863, and if a well-bred young woman like Lynne would have ever heard that expression, or understood it's meaning.

I had an inkling of who was behind the threats fairly early on, though several times I thought I might be wrong. But that did nothing to mar my enjoyment of the story. This was a fun, sometimes tense read, and I look forward to continuing the series. 

06 August 2015

Branded (The Cavanaugh Brothers, Book 1)

Back cover copy: When the Cavanaugh brothers return home for their father’s funeral, they discover unexpected evidence of the old man’s surprising double life—a son named Blue, who wants the Triple C Ranch as much as they do. The eldest son, Deacon, a wealthy businessman who couldn’t wait to leave the ranch and move on with his life, is looking to use his powerful connections to stop Blue at any cost. He never expected the ranch’s forewoman, Mackenzie Byrd, to get in his way.

Mac knows Deacon means to destroy the ranch and therefore destroy her livelihood. But as the two battle for control, their attraction builds. Now Deacon is faced with the choice of a lifetime: Take down the Triple C to feed his need for revenge, or embrace the love of the one person who has broken down every barrier to his heart.

Stats for my copy: Mass market paperback, Signet Eclipse published by the Penguin Group, 2014.

How acquired: Bought.

My thoughts: I’d never heard of this author, but when I stopped in a CVS to pick up a couple of things on the way home from work one day the dude on the cover caught my eye and insisted on leaving with me.

After the kidnapping and death of their sister, the Cavanaugh brothers all hightailed it out of River Black, Texas, as soon as they were old enough to leave. Deacon, the oldest brother, is a successful businessman in Dallas, buying and selling properties left and right. James has become a media sensation as a horse whisperer, and Cole is an underground fighter.

BRANDED focuses on Deacon, who has attempted many times over the years to get their father, Everett, to sell the Triple C Ranch to him. Now that their father has died, Deacon is determined to completely destroy the ranch and everything it stands for.

Mac was best friends with Cass ten years ago, and had a crush on Deacon, who was four years older and showed absolutely no interest in her. She gave the sheriff a tip about a mystery man called Sweet who Cass had been meeting, but the sheriff decided that Sweet didn’t really exist, and Cass Cavanaugh’s murderer was never found. The Triple C is home to Mac, and Everett was like a father to her. She loves her job as foreman of the ranch, and loves her life on the ranch. The thought of Deacon destroying the ranch, which provides a living for much of the town, makes her sick to her stomach.

The back cover copy is a little misleading. Blue is the son of the ranch housekeeper, and the synopsis makes it sound like he and Deacon are going to be head to head adversaries, which is not quite accurate. Blue is actually a pretty minor character.

Throughout much of the book I could not understand what was driving Deacon. In addition to trying to get control of the Triple C, he’s been buying up land nearby and has construction going on there, with the intention of starting his own spread, Redemption Ranch. He is extremely bitter about his father, and James and Cole appear to feel the same way, though not as aggressively about the ranch being destroyed. Mac of course is also puzzled, and is determined to fight Deacon every step of the way, doing whatever it takes to convince him to leave the ranch alone.

The book was enjoyable enough, and Deacon and Mac were both likable characters. Well, Mac was likable. Deacon acted pretty unlikable at times but he was still a strong charismatic character who I was drawn to. However, I got a little irritated at his constant growling. It’s sexy when a man occasionally growls, but only occasionally. After awhile I wished I’d been keeping count of how many times he growled, it would be interesting to see the final number. 

The sex scenes between Deacon and Mac were explicit, which I don’t have a problem with, but they weren’t really sexy. The dialogue during those scenes was not sexy. It was a little awkward and unrealistic.

During the last quarter of the book, we finally learn just why Deacon is so filled with hatred for his father, and it was a pretty shocking moment, and suddenly the book got so much more engaging and gripping, and that lasted right up to the last page. Which sort of ended on a cliffhanger about Cass Cavanaugh's death, which I gather will be a running theme throughout the series.

I didn't love it enough to want to seek out the author's entire backlist, but I did enjoy it enough to want to get the next book, BROKEN, about James.